Leadership + Social Media = iLeadership

cregan    March 16, 2015

Airbnb picture




Organization Name:  Airbnb

Industry:      Hotel & Vacation Rentals

Name of contact:  Brian Chesky

Web References: Airbnb

Description on how Social Media is used for Business Performance:


As I learn more about how different companies are using Social Media in various parts of their business, I realize these communication platforms are influencing companies’ leadership.  Through conversations with executives, it has been my experience that most are aware of Social Media but think of it as only a company marketing tool and not as a way to improve business performance.  In Meghan Ennes’ Harvard Business Review article, “Most Companies are Still Clueless About Social Media”, she reports that of those surveyed, 58% of companies are currently engaged in social networks and much of their social investment is future oriented. However, only a small percentage of the respondents feel they are effectively using Social Media, as evidenced in the following chart.

effective user profile

Ms. Ennes indicates the effective social media users have advanced beyond marketing’s traditional method of pushing one way messages onto consumers to conversations with the consumer about their brand, the monitoring of customer trends, and are utilizing it as a means of product research.  Further explanation of effective use strategies can be found in my previous blog post, “Nivea’s Invisible Black & White – Social Media Synergy”.

It is no wonder then that with such a small percentage effectively using this platform to improve business performance that its power is overlooked or not utilized by business leaders.

The types of Social Media challenges companies are facing and the company’s perception of Social Media is impacted by how effective they are at using Social Media.

attitudes to social mediaFrom “Most Companies are Still Clueless About Social Media”

 Social Media’s Perception & Challenges:

  • The effective users are focusing on:Integrating a Social Media strategy into their business and marketing strategies; and
  • Working with executives to educate them on the importance of Social Media and to help them view it as a high priority.

The Getting There users are focusing on the future use of Social Media and also believe:

  • Their interest and use of Social Media will grow significantly;
  • They have a significant learning curve to overcome; and
  • They get clear measure of the impact of Social Media on their business performance.

The Ineffective Users are:

  • Having difficulty seeing the value and relevance of Social Media for their business; and
  • They see Social Media as a fad.

With about 60% of companies using social networks and facing various types of challenges with it, I believe this situation is a result of company leadership having some Social Media awareness but not a strong understanding of its power.  These viewpoints are changing as companies use Social Media in innovative ways to improve business performance.

In exploring the CEO’s Social Media presence, Devon Glenn’s article  Infographic: The Social Profiles of Inc. 500 CEOs vs. Fortune 500 CEO  outlines that 79% of Inc. 500 CEO’s have at least on social media account while only 30% of Fortune 500 CEO’s have a minimum of one.  The video below offers more insight into statistics, facts and figures about CEO’s on Social Media.

CEO.com editor-in-chief Mark Adams offers this insight as to why the Inc. 500 CEO’s are using Social Media:

“There are several potential reasons why Inc. 500 CEOs naturally gravitate to social channels—and why Fortune 500 CEOs do not. The most obvious is that Inc. 500 CEOs are younger and have a natural affinity for innovative tools that will help their companies grow faster and gain a competitive edge.  The average age of Inc. 500 CEOs is 42, compared to approximately 55 for CEOs in the Fortune 500.”

While we do not know exactly why CEO’s are not embracing Social Media more personally, we can postulate the following reasons for its underuse:

  • not enough time in their already packed schedule;
  • greater corporate risks if a mistake is made;
  • uncomfortable with transparency; or
  • resistance to change.

As the market, social technology, and culture are evolving, a new digital and hyper-connected environment is being created with new business model opportunities requiring a different leadership style.  This is further outlined in “Is Your Leadership Style Right for the Digital Age?

In this hyper-connected environment, employees want their leaders to be social.  This sentiment was reiterated in a recent conversation with Marcus Gillam, President of Gillam Group, who shared with me that his “younger employees are encouraging him to participate on Social Media”.  If your employees are encouraging you to become social, will your choice in this regard have an impact on how they view you?  Well, “The Social CEO: Executives Tell All” tells us yes.  The accompanying chart demonstrates how Social CEO’s are viewed differently than their more unsocial counterparts.

employee impression of Social CEO

With employees describing their social leader differently than one who is not, we must then inquire as to whether there are any other benefits to the leader  I believe it is essential leaders engage on Social Media; this view seems to be embraced by Ivan Serrano as well.  In his report, “Are You a Social CEO”, Ivan Serrnao’s predicts leaders Social Media participation with double by 2017.  He sees it as a powerful way for company leaders to connect with the target audiences and represent one’s company.  Because a business’ success heavily relies on a CEO’s reputation, the way they portray themselves on social media can stand as a model for the company’s culture, values, and mission.  Some additional benefits are:

  • putting a face to the company brand;
  • increasing company’s marketing power;
  • improving company morale;
  • increasing the recruiting conversations;
  • getting ahead of the curve; and
  • becoming an industry influencer.



airbnb location pictureA company leader who has become a social leader is Brian Chesky. CEO of Airbnb, which he co-founded in August 2008.  Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations worldwide through the internet.  Airbnb’s platform connects people to a unique travel experience in more than 34,000 cities in 190 countries, providing world-class customer service and a growing community of users.  Airbnb provides property owners an easy way to monetize and showcase their extra space to audiences beyond their local reach.

The story of Airbnb’s evolution is told in the slide presentation below.

Brian Chesky co-founded Airbnb and successfully grew into a world class company.brian Chesky  Brian is the perfect Social CEO because he:

  • runs a Social Media enterprise,
  • is knowledgeable about Social Media; and
  • has grown up with Social Media.

Brian knows culture is important and his conversation indicates he supports Peter Drucker’s statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  Brian outlines more about culture in this video:

In Brian’s conversation, he explains that one of the ways to build an enduring company is to have a clear mission, values, and a shared way of doing something that is unique to your business.  He has discovered that a company’s behaviours and rituals will change over time but what will not change are the company’s values.  Brian believes

 “Having a clear mission and making sure you know that mission and making sure that mission comes through the company is probably the most important thing you can do for both culture and values.”

Airbnb is about using Social Media to create stories and Brian leads Airbnb’s story telling.  In the following video, Brian tells Airbnb’s story about funding their start-up vision:

Looking back at the benefits of being a Social CEO outline previously, Brian appears to be enjoying most of them.  Brian has put a face to Airbnb and has increased their marketing power by issuing an invitation to participate in their #OneLessStranger campaign.

He is a member of a small group of CEO’s using LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook accounts and is now defining what a Social CEO’s role is.  He leads a company that is always improving itself through initiatives such as streaming monthly staff communications around the world.  Brian Chesky is an industry influencer through his retweeting of comments and creation of presentations like the one that appeared in the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2014.

Airbnb is a perfect example of what Social Media is about, how they use Social Media to improve their business performance who is led by a Social CEO.  Other businesses can learn from their example to better use Social Media to improve business performance and leadership.


  1. People are talking about your company so why not participate.
  2. Leaders being visible on Social Media is a business imperative.
  3. Social Media builds a leader’s credibility with employees, customers, and partners.
  4. Leaders need to make a commitment and be consistent to be an iLeader.
  5. Leaders need to determine their Social Media role and goals.
  6. Listen and learn from those in your social network.
  7. Leaders must promote others more than they promote themselves.
  8. Leaders must be prepared to adjust their leadership style to their digital business model.
  9. Leaders must participate on Social Media with an open mind.

Submitted by: Charlie Regan

To Contact the author of this entry please email at: charlie.regan@leadershipcg.ca

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Programme Director, Social Media for Business Performance.